You can’t make a great restaurant if the owner isn’t having fun.
Frankly, “Kikuchi” might be the kind of restaurant that gets picky when it comes to customers. “When the seats are full, I often run around. I have customers who enjoy seeing me like this and they would tell me, “You’re always smiling even when you’re busy”. Honestly, this restaurant is able to survive because of such customers. I am truly grateful.” Says Mr. Kikuchi. Sometimes people tell him, “Wouldn’t it be easier to hire some employees?”, but he does not have any plans like that in the near future.
Would you rather spend more money on the ingredients than employees?
Yes. But another thing is the physical capacity. It’s a small store, so if there are many employees, it kind of gets hot and crowded (laughs). Even if I were to consider hiring somebody, I can only hire one. But if I only hire one, there will be a clear master-and-man relationship between us. This would be fine if there were 10 employees, because they would be able to drink alcohol together and blow some steam off. But if there is only one, they will get very stressed. The customers can see everything in this store, so if the employee is stressed and things aren’t working too well, they will catch up on it instantly.
Did you experience something like that when you were training?
I was the optimistic type. Even when my superiors scolded me, I did not let it drag on. But for people who think too much, it might be tough. It might work if I can figure out their personality in the interview, but that’s easier said than done. So if I’m going to hire employees, I will need to hire 2 or more. But to do that, I need to make the store bigger. I need to get more customers to pay my employees. And ultimately, the question is, is that something I really want to do…
You don’t think so, do you?
No, it’s not something I want to do. I don’t think I will be able to enjoy my work in such situations. If the owner isn’t having fun, the restaurant gets dull. I cannot let that happen. Now that I have a restaurant with my name on it, I need to have fun and freedom. However, I also need to take responsibility for the results. In that sense, the restaurant industry is tough. If the customers stop liking your food, they will stop coming. I feel there is no freedom for those who cannot take responsibility.
Last question, what are your future goals?
To continue having fun working.
What do you mean by “fun”?
The customers come here excited. There is nothing better than the feeling when I realize I was able to meet their expectations. A big difference between my training years and now is, I feel so much more joy about the fact that customers came to eat at my restaurant. My restaurant and I still have a lot of work to do, but there are customers who cheer me on. There are repeat customers who sympathize with my philosophy. I am so thankful for that. I am grateful for customers because they keep me going and they also inspire me to be stronger.
（Interviewer: Osamu Saito、Writer: Ayako Izumi、Photographer: Tomonari Shimizu）